Restaurant inspection placards rejected outside C-U
URBANA — Champaign County Board members Tuesday night voted down a plan to begin a color-coded food service inspection program in unincorporated parts of the county on Jan. 1.
But the vote doesn't appear to effect food service businesses within Champaign-Urbana because the three-member Champaign-Urbana Public Health District board voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the program.
"At this point," said county board Chairman Alan Kurtz, "my only conclusion is that there could be placards in the cities, but not placards out in the county. But that again is questionable in my mind until I can get some kind of an opinion from the state's attorney to make sure I'm on solid ground."
Eleven board members voted against the proposal and nine voted for it. The no votes were from Republicans Gary Maxwell, Jim McGuire, Jon Schroder, Aaron Esry, Stanley Harper, John Jay and Jeff Kibler, and Democrats Pattsi Petrie, Rachel Schwartz, Chris Alix and Astrid Berkson.
The yes votes were from Democrats Michael Richards, Giraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Lorraine Cowart, Josh Hartke, Alan Kurtz and Ralph Langenheim, and Republicans Diane Michaels and Stan James.
Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry did not vote and Champaign Republican Max Mitchell was absent.
The county board vote came about four hours after the C-U Public Health District board —of which Kurtz is a member — unanimously approved the proposal. Other members of the public health district board are Andy Quarnstrom of Champaign and Michelle Mayol of Urbana.
Under the plan, restaurants and retail food stores in Champaign-Urbana will have to display public health district-issued placards that are either green (satisfactory compliance), yellow (reinspection required) or red (closed).
The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce had urged board members to oppose the plan, saying it "could have unintended consequences to the economic health and vitality of conscientious restaurant owners and managers."
At the county board, Rantoul area Republican Stan James spoke out for the measure, calling it "a great tool."
"It gives me a leg up to let me know I'm doing business with a business that knows what it's doing," James said.
But Champaign Democrat Astrid Berkson said the color-coded placards would be confusing to the public.
"Close them if they're dangerous. Other than that they don't need a placard," said Berkson.
Jim Roberts, environmental health director for the health district, said that businesses that get a yellow placard would be able to remain open and would get "an unannounced reinspection" after they inform the district's inspectors that they believe they have corrected their sanitation problems.
Urbana Democrat Chris Alix said he was concerned that the placards would give consumers either "a false sense of security" or "needless fear," based on the day and time of day they were inspected.
Sadorus area Republican Jon Schroeder said he feared the placards would damage the reputations of small-town restauarnts.
"If you yellow-flag somebody out there, it could be the death knell," he said.
Also Tuesday night, board members decided to pull from their agenda discussion of a new pretrial services program for criminal court defendants in the county.
A five-week pilot study, undertaken by the Chief Judge Tom Difanis, court services director Joe Gordon, Public Defender Randy Rosenbaum and court administrator Roger Holland, determined that the program was unnecessary and would be a waste of money.
But members of the board's Democratic majority, meeting in caucus before the full board meeting, voiced skepticism about the study and said they were unaware it was even being conducted.
By pulling the item from the agenda, a $122,760 line item for the program will remain in the county's budget for the fiscal year beginning Dec. 1. Democratic board members say they hope to hear more from "stakeholders" in the process in the coming weeks.
Board members also agreed to defer consideration of a request for proposals to develop and implement a new re-entry program for jail and prison inmates being released into the community.
Also Tuesday, the board approved a $29.6 million property tax levy, for taxes to be paid next spring. The levy is about $878,384 greater than the amount sought in the current year.
Board members also approved a $37.8 million general corporate fund budget for the year beginning Dec. 1. Final approval will come at the board's Nov. 21 meeting.
The board approved the reappointment of Cathy Emanuel of Champaign to the county nursing home board, as well as two new members, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Donald Lyn of Mahomet, and Sam Banks of Champaign, the CEO of the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.